Weekly Geeks asked participants to list books they have read but not reviewed and then invite others to ask questions about these books. The idea was to help us catch up on our reviews. I listed A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell as one of those books and Sherrie who writes A View of My Life blog had a question for me. She asked as this is a modern mystery did it keep my attention through the whole book? Well, it did – once I’d started I just had to keep on reading.
Ruth Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh also writes under the pseudonym Barbara Vine. She writes traditional detective stories, mainspring novels and crime fiction concentrating on one character.
I’ve known of Ruth Rendell’s books for years and watched the TV versions of her Inspector Wexford books and other books too. But I don’t think I’ve ever read any of them before. As well as A Judgement in Stone I’ve also recently read The Birthday Present (Rendell writing as Barbara Vine). Both are quite disturbing books.
A Judgement In Stone portrays Eunice an illiterate woman and a psychopath who does anything to stop anyone from finding out that she can’t read or write. The opening sentences sets it out clearly:
Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write. There was no real motive and no premeditation; no money was gained and no security.
Her ingenuity and resourcefulness is amazing. She blackmails people and killed her father. I found the whole premise of such a damaged person apparently functioning normally in society scary. She is employed by the Coverdales as their housekeeper and in the interests of having their house kept clean and tidy they tried to make her comfortable. But part of the problem was that they looked on her as little more than a machine, not as a person. They meant well, wanting to make other people happy, but they were interferers, they didn’t understand that
… selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.
Things went from bad to worse when Eunice met Joan, who was completely unstable, in fact she was insane. Joan is a religious fanatic, a sinner who delights in telling people of her past sins and wanting them to seek God’s forgiveness. Their friendship ends in tragedy.
Illiteracy is essential to the novel. I felt helpless whilst reading this, desperately wanting the Coverdales to realise Eunice’s problems, but they were blind to the fact that Eunice was illiterate and although they tried to prevent her meeting Joan they were unaware of the danger they were in. This inflamed Eunice and pushed her into taking the actions she did.
Although Eunice’s crime is known right from the start, that does not detract from the suspense. It actually makes it worse – you know that the murder is going to happen and as the reasons why it happens become clear, the tension builds relentlessly.
Note: this is the 19th library book I’ve read this year qualifying for the Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge.